Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017 Expert Panel ATP Predictions

For the third year in a row, the ATP World Tour Expert Panel Predictions are back on the Second Serb with two new panelists and four returners, including 2016 runner-up Joey Hanf.

Here are the full picks by the six panelists for the 2017 season on the ATP: ATP Expert Panel Predictions

2017 ATP Year-End Top 100 Predictions

Kevin Craig and I are going head-to-head for the second year in a row, predicting the year-end top 100 in the ATP. Kevin won handily last year. Here are our predictions:

Rank Kevin Craig Jared Pine
1 Novak Djokovic Novak Djokovic
2 Milos Raonic Andy Murray
3 Roger Federer Milos Raonic
4 Andy Murray Kei Nishikori
5 Stan Wawrinka Rafael Nadal
6 Nick Kyrgios Dominic Thiem
7 Lucas Pouille Marin Cilic
8 Dominic Thiem Nick Kyrgios
9 Kei Nishikori Grigor Dimitrov
10 Juan Martin del Potro Jack Sock
11 Marin Cilic Stan Wawrinka
12 Rafael Nadal David Goffin
13 Alex Zverev Tomas Berdcyh
14 Jack Sock Roger Federer
15 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Lucas Pouille
16 Grigor Dimitrov Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
17 David Goffin Alexander Zverev
18 Gael Monfils Bernard Tomic
19 Tomas Berdych Steve Johnson
20 Bernard Tomic Roberto Bautista Agut
21 Steve Johnson John Isner
22 Roberto Bautista Agut Gael Monfils
23 Sam Querrey Pablo Carreno Busta
24 Pablo Carreno Busta Ricahrd Gasquet
25 David Ferrer Borna Coric
26 Borna Coric Pablo Cuevas
27 John Isner Albert Ramos
28 Richard Gasquet Viktor Troicki
29 Kyle Edmund Kyle Edmund
30 Karen Khachanov Andrey Kuznetsov
31 Jiri Vesely Karen Khachanov
32 Federico Delbonis Jiri Vesely
33 Martin Klizan Gilles Simon
34 Mischa Zverev Martin Klizan
35 Pablo Cuevas Juan Martin del Potro
36 Fernando Verdasco Taylor Fritz
37 Joao Sousa Diego Schwartzman
38 Fabio Fognini Sam Querrey
39 Gilles Simon Kevin Anderson
40 Marcos Baghdatis David Ferrer
41 Gilles Muller Gerald Melzer
42 Feliciano Lopez Jeremy Chardy
43 Kevin Anderson Benoit Paire
44 Nicolas Almagro Daniel Evans
45 Ivo Karlovic Joao Sousa
46 Alex Dolgopolov Hyeon Chung
47 Taylor Fritz Alexandr Dolgopolov
48 Hyeon Chung Adam Pavlasek
49 Thomaz Bellucci Renzo Olivo
50 Albert Ramos-Vinolas Jordan Thompson
51 Viktor Troicki Philipp Kohlschreiber
52 Ryan Harrison Pierre-Hugues Herbert
53 Facundo Bagnis Gilles Muller
54 Marcel Granollers Marcel Granollers
55 Guido Pella Nicolas Almagro
56 Jeremy Chardy Facundo Bagnis
57 Donald Young Guido Pella
58 Juan Monaco Adrian Mannarino
59 Nicolas Mahut Jan-Lennard Struff
60 Daniil Medvedev Damir Dzumhur
61 Jordan Thompson Dusan Lajovic
62 Adam Pavlasek Ricardas Berankis
63 Dustin Brown Gastao Elias
64 Andrey Kuznetsov Ryan Harrison
65 Frances Tiafoe Mischa Zverev
66 Tommy Robredo John Millman
67 Vasek Pospisil Florian Mayer
68 Pierre-Hugues Herbert Nikoloz Basilashvili
69 Diego Schwartzman Daniil Medvedev
70 Phillip Kohlschreiber Illya Marchenko
71 John Millman Ivo Karlovic
72 Robin Haase Fernando Verdasco
73 Stefan Kozlov Fabio Fognini
74 Denis Istomin Thomaz Bellucci
75 Reilly Opelka Yoshihito Nishioka
76 Adrian Mannarino Vasek Pospisil
77 Illya Marchenko Mikhail Kukushkin
78 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez Jared Donaldson
79 Paolo Lorenzi Malek Jaziri
80 Julien Benneteau Santiago Giraldo
81 Benoit Paire Frances Tiafoe
82 Jared Donaldson Feliciano Lopez
83 Andreas Seppi Marcos Baghdatis
84 Yoshihito Nishioka Andrey Rublev
85 Damir Dzumhur Elias Ymer
86 Jan-Lennard Struff Duckhee Lee
87 Mikhail Youzhny Bjorn Fratangelo
88 Daniel Evans Dustin Brown
89 Malek Jaziri Taro Daniel
90 Radek Stepanek Juan Monaco
91 Radu Albot Ernesto Escobedo
92 Denis Kudla Quentin Halys
93 Rajeev Ram Laslo Djere
94 Peter Polansky Noah Rubin
95 Lukas RosolStefan Kozlov
96 Stefanos Tsitsipas Michael Mmoh
97 Ernesto Escobedo James Duckworth
98 Jozef Kovalik Denis Shapovalov
99 Henri Laaksonen Andreas Seppi
100 Jerzy Janowicz Casper Ruud

If there was any doubt that it's hard to guess the top 100 in the world 52 weeks in advance, consider the fact that Kevin and I only have three picks in common: Novak Djokovic at No. 1, Kyle Edmund at No. 29, and Marcel Granollers at No. 54. Considering how far off some of the other predictions are, the fact that Edmund and Granollers are the same on both of our lists are more of a sign of coincidence than our combined tennis knowledge.

Kevin's bold predictions: Roger Federer at No. 3, Lucas Pouille at No. 7, and Reilly Opelka at No. 75.

Jared's bold predictions: Rafael Nadal at No. 5, Grigor Dimitrov at No. 9, and Gerald Melzer at No. 41.

Kevin's pessimistic picks: Kei Nishikori at No. 9, Rafael Nadal at No. 12, and Tomas Berdych at No. 19.

Jared's pessimistic picks: Roger Federer at No. 14, Gael Monfils at No. 22, and Juan Martin del Potro at No. 35.

Missing from Kevin's top 100: Gerald Melzer, Florian Mayer, and Nikoloz Basilashvili

Missing from Jared's top 100: Nicolas Mahut, Robin Haase, and Tommy Robredo

United States Top 10 Predictions

Rank Kevin Craig Jared Pine
1 Jack Sock (14) Jack Sock (10)
2 Steve Johnson (21) Steve Johnson (19)
3 Sam Querrey (23) John Isner (21)
4 John Isner (27) Taylor Fritz (36)
5 Taylor Fritz (47) Sam Querrey (38)
6 Ryan Harrison (52) Ryan Harrison (64)
7 Donald Young (57) Jared Donaldson (78)
8 Frances Tiafoe (65) Frances Tiafoe (81)
9 Stefan Kozlov (73) Bjorn Fratangelo (87)
10 Reilly Opelka (75) Ernesto Escobedo (91)

Opposite of last year, I'm the optimistic one for Sock, Johnson, and Isner, while Kevin has high hopes for Querrey, Harrison, and Young. Both of us are expecting good years from the players born in the final years of the 20th century.

Across the board, expectations for American tennis 2017 are higher than they have been in nearly a decade and its not without good reason. Kevin and I have different predictions about which Americans will have success in the next 52 weeks, but there is no doubt that this will be a good year for more than just a couple of players representing the stars and stripes.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Year-End Top 100 Predictions Revisited

Kevin Craig and I went head-to-head last year last year in predicting the year-end top 100 in the ATP and the top 10 among players from the United States. It was my fifth year predicting the top 100 and first time going head-to-head against Kevin.

Kevin thoroughly beat me overall. His predictions were off by an average of 33.5 spots with a median of 21 with three perfect predictions. I was off by an average of 34 and median of 24 without getting a single prediction correct.

I was doing well through the top nine, but once I picked Bernard Tomic to finish No. 10, there was no recovering. I also missed badly with Kevin Anderson and Aljaz Bedene. My good predictions were putting Martin Klizan at No. 32, Viktor Troicki at No. 25 and Federico Delbonis at No. 43.

The best pick by either of us was Kevin putting Diego Schwartzman perfectly at No. 52. He also correctly predicted Stan Wawrinka at No. 4 and Tomas Berdych at No. 10. Unfortunately, Kevin was a bit optimistic for Vasek Pospisil and Donald Young.

I got the better of Kevin in our predictions for United States tennis. My picks were off by an average of 25.3 spots, while Kevin was off by 35.9 spots. My lack of optimism for Isner, Sock and Young served me well. I also picked Ryan Harrison to finish No. 85 overall. I also had Querrey and Fratangelo just a little bit higher.

Kevin did well to predict Donaldson at No. 99 and Talor Fritz at No. 86. Those two players will be the future of American tennis and the fact that Kevin so accurately predicted them is good news, because it means they are living up to the hype. That wasn't the case for the so-called "lost boys."

In my five years of predicting the year-end top 100, this was my worst year. The first three years, my average margin of error was slightly above 31 all three years. In 2015, I had my best score ever of 25, so the score of 34 is a good indicator of the level of unpredictability in 2016. However, if you ask most tennis fans, 2016 was the worst year on the ATP from a fans' perspective in recent memory, proving that unpredictability is bad for the game.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Measuring Year-End Finals Dominance

Since the 1970 Masters Grand Prix, the ATP World Tour has wrapped up each season with a small tournament featuring the top players on the tour every year. The format of the tournament has changed slightly over the years, but the current format of the World Tour Finals is the most commonly used format.

As I've done with Grand Slams and with Masters Series 1000 events, I wanted to look at who are the best players in the tournament's history, comparing players from every generation by calculating the ranking points earned by players at the event based on the current ranking points system.

That means every round robin win is worth 200 points, every semifinal win is worth 400, and winning the championship match is worth 500. For the years with a normal bracket tournament, a quarterfinal finish is worth 200, semifinals worth 400, final worth 800 and a title is worth 1300. In 1970 and 1971, only two players advanced from the round robin stage, so there was no opportunity to earn the 400 points in the semifinal matches.

Before getting into the lists, here are a few records at the tournament.

Most consecutive appearances at the tournament: Federer (14)
-Longest active streak: Djokovic (10)
Most consecutive appearances in the final: Lendl (9)
-Longest active streak: Djokovic (5)
Most consecutive titles won: Djokovic (4)
-Longest active streak: Murray (1)
Most times reaching the tournament: Federer (14)
Most times reaching the final: Federer (10)
Most titles won: Federer (6)
Most years between first and last appearance: Connors (15)
Most years between first and last time reaching the final: Federer (12)
Most years between first and last title: Sampras (8)

Total Ranking Points Earned
1. Roger Federer 14,200
2. Ivan Lendl 11,900
3. Pete Sampras 9700
3. Boris Becker 9700
5. Novak Djokovic 9100
6. Ilie Nastase 6600
7. John McEnroe 6100
8. Andre Agassi 5500
9. Jimmy Connors 4700
10. Bjorn Borg 4600
11. Stefan Edberg 4300
12. Guillermo Vilas 3900
13. Lleyton Hewitt 3800
14. Andy Murray 3700
15. Rafael Nadal 3600
16. Stan Smith 3100
16. Nikolay Davydenko 3100
18. Mats Wilander 2400
18. Yevgeny Kafelnikov 2400
20. Carlos Moya 2200
21. Manuel Orantes 2100
22. Arthur Ashe 2000
23. Jim Courier 1800
23. David Ferrer 1800
25. David Nalbandian 1700
26. Vitas Gerulaitis 1600
26. Brian Gottfried 1600
26. Juan Martin del Potro 1600
26. Goran Ivanisevic 1600
26. Andy Roddick 1600
26. Michael Chang 1600
32. Michael Stich 1500
32. Alex Corretja 1500
32. Gustavo Kuerten 1500
35. Stan Wawrinka 1400

Ranking Points Earned per Tournament
1. Ilie Nastase 1320
2. Roger Federer 1014
3. Tom Okker 1000
4. Ivan Lendl 992
5. Lleyton Hewitt 950
6. Bjorn Borg 920
7. Novak Djokovic 910
8. Pete Sampras 882
8. Boris Becker 882
10. Vitas Gerulaitis 800

The obvious issue with going based ranking points per tournament is the advantage it gives to players who played in less tournaments such as Tom Okker who reached the final in the only year he played. The issue with going off of total points is that is that it gives an advantage to players for having longer careers. The best way to analyze dominance at the tournament is to find a balance of the two.

The best way to do that is to take the total ranking points earned but take away 130 points (10% of the amount of points for winning the title with one round robin loss) for each year playing in the tournament.

Total Ranking Points Adjusted
1. Roger Federer 12,380
2. Ivan Lendl 10,340
3. Pete Sampras 8270
3. Boris Becker 8270
5. Novak Djokovic 7800
6. Ilie Nastase 5950
7. John McEnroe 5060
8. Andre Agassi 4200
9. Bjorn Borg 3950
10. Lleyton Hewitt 3280
11. Jimmy Connors 3270
12. Stefan Edberg 3260
13. Guillermo Vilas 2860
14. Rafael Nadal 2690
15. Andy Murray 2660
16. Stan Smith 2580
17. Nikolay Davydenko 2450
18. Mats Wilander 1620
19. Arthur Ashe 1610
20. Carlos Moya 1550

This tournament serves as a unique test for greatness. In every other tournament, the best players don't play each other until the later rounds. That means that if a player doesn't feel 100 percent physically or doesn't like the conditions, they likely will never play against their rivals. However, in the year-end championships, playing against the top players is inevitable. This tournament is the only true test of who is the best of the best.

Lendl is someone that is underrated on most GOAT lists, but on these lists he does very well. On the flip side, Nadal and Connors are both surprisingly low on these lists. Becker and Sampras both had the exact same results at the tournament

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

France takes over as the top country on the ATP

For the last decade, Spain has dominated men's tennis with more representation at the top of the ATP than any other country, but in 2016, that domination came to an end. I've been forecasting the downfall of Spanish tennis for a while, but it has taken longer than expected and even now has only just begun and it began with France becoming the ATP's new best country.

Every few months I release my power rankings of the top tennis countries on the ATP based on a simple formula: the sum of ranking points earned in the last 52 weeks by all members of that country ranked inside the top 140. Why 140? I honestly don't have a good answer, but I'm stuck with it for the sake of consistency.

Ever since I started tracking these rankings in 2012, Spain has been the No. 1 country every time, while France and Serbia battled for a distant No. 2. However, as the Spanish stars have started to age, there haven't been any young Spaniards to take their place, leading to the predictable downfall of Spanish tennis.

Meanwhile, Serbia's Novak Djokovic and Great Britain's Andy Murray have split time dominating the ATP in 2016, while receiving very little support from their countrymen. Switzerland also took a hit with Roger Federer missing a large chunk of the 2016 season.

All of this left the door wide open for another country to grab the No. 1 position and France did so with its most impressive season since 2013. In the year-end rankings, France had four players in the top 20, including a couple surprises in the form of Gael Monfils and Lucas Pouille. They were joined by the reliably successful Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Overall, France placed 13 players inside the top 140 of the year-end rankings, which is the most since the end of the 2014 season. The United States actually led the world in players ranked inside the top 140 with 14, but John Isner was ranked No. 19, leading all Americans.

Here are the previous year-end rankings before this year.

No. 2012201320142015
1. Spain SpainSpain Spain
2.Serbia France France Serbia
3.FranceSerbia Switzerland France
4. SwitzerlandArgentina Serbia Switzerland
5. Argentina GermanyCzech Republic United States
6. United States United StatesUnited States Great Britain
7. GermanySwitzerland Germany Japan
8. Great BritainCzech RepublicCroatia Australia
9. Czech Republic RussiaJapanCzech Republic
10. ItalyGreat Britain Argentina Italy
11. Russia Canada CanadaCroatia
12. Croatia Italy Great Britain Argentina
13. JapanAustraliaAustralia Germany
14. Australia Poland Italy Belgium
15. Canada Croatia Bulgaria Canada
16.Belgium JapanRussiaRussia
17. Ukraine AustriaLatvia Ukraine
18. Netherlands NetherlandsColombia South Africa
19. Brazil Ukraine Ukraine Austria
20. Slovakia ColombiaAustria Slovakia

The countries that are well-represented in the top 100 such as Spain, France, United States, and Italy don't tend to jump around a lot on this list. Argentina is the exception to that, taking a major dip in 2014 and 2015 with the injury to Juan Martin del Potro mixed with the retirement of several players. On the other hand, countries like Great Britain, Switzerland and Japan bounce around on this list a lot because the success or failure of one player determines the ranking of the entire country. Latvia, Bulgaria, Belgium and South Africa are all extreme examples of that.

Here are the final rankings for the 2016 season.

1. France (18,100) - For the first time ever, France is No. 1 on this list, knocking off Spain with 13 players inside the top 140, but more importantly four players inside the top 20. The resurgence of Gael Monfils was the top story out of France in 2016 and it began with his run to the final in Monte Carlo, where he met fellow Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semifinals. The other big story was Lucas Pouille, who made the most of a lucky loser in Rome to catapult the best season of his career so far. Nicolas Mahut was another big story in French tennis with his improbably comeback after being ranked as low as No. 240 just three years ago. At age 34, Mahut won his fourth career title, had a winning record and finished the year inside the top 40. Stephane Robert and Paul Henri Mathieu also defied their age to put together very impressive 2016 seasons. It's still to be determined how long France can remain No. 1 since Pouille and Pierre-Hugues Herbert are the only Frenchmen inside the top 150 that are less than 27 years old right now. There don't seem to be any challengers on the horizon though, which will give France some time to let some of its young talent to develop before picking up the torch.

2. Spain (16,637) - It's only the beginning of what I've been forecasting as a massive downfall for Spanish tennis, which will struggle to simply stay in the top 20 on this list. The average age of the 12 Spaniards in the top 140 is more than 30 years, meaning that most of them will be retiring in the next five years and there is nobody to take their place. The Spaniards have shown that their downfall is taking longer than anticipated, which only means it will be more drastic when it finally hits. A lot of Spaniards are defying their age with the amount of success they had in 2016, but that is only delaying the inevitable. Spain might be No. 2 right now but it will be decades before we see Spain contend for No. 1 again.

3. Great Britain (14,739) - This is Great Britain's highest ranking since I began tracking this list and I'm willing to bet that it's the highest ranking since the ATP began using computer rankings in 1973. Andy Murray became the first Brit ever to become No. 1 in the World and unlike previous years, there were other Brits helping boost the nation's ranking. The 21-year old Kyle Edmund reached a career-high ranking of No. 40 in October and finished the year No. 45 with a 21-20 record. Daniel Evans also reached a career-high ranking this year and finished the season ranked No. 66.

4. Serbia (13,792) - To be No. 4 in the world as a country and have two grand slam titles is a great season for any country other than Serbia, which is actually at its lowest points total in two years. The tennis world grew accustomed to Djokovic's dominance and the year-end No. 1 ranking seemed like a foregone conclusion once he won Roland Garros. Djokovic went on to win Canada and reach the final of the US Open and the World Tour Finals, but by his standards, that was a slump. Djokovic won't regain the No. 1 ranking any time soon, but Serbia should be able to stay comfortably in the top four for a while.

5. United States (11,731) - If anyone is going to pass Serbia in the upcoming months, the United States would be a good candidate considering the wealth of young talent. Ivo Karlovic is proving right now that age isn't much of a factor for players with big serves, so John Isner and Sam Querrey will be fine for a while longer. Other than those two, nobody else has even reached their peak yet. The United States can only go up in 2017. At some point, the United States will pass Spain. The only question is if 2017 is the year that happens. I'm going to say yes.

6. Argentina (8796) - With Juan Martin del Potro back from injury, Argentina had a fantastic 2016 season. Federico Delbonis, Diego Schwartzman, and Facundo Bagnis showed off Argentina's depth. The rankings don't fully reflect the success of the Davis Cup champions, since both the Davis Cup and the Olympics no longer reward ranking points. However, the rankings always get it right with time, so Argentina could be in five digits not long from now.

7. Switzerland (8394) - It's weird to see Stan Wawrinka ranked ahead of Roger Federer. The US Open champion is the reason Switzerland is in the top 10 of this list. Federer missed a large chunk of the season, but Wawrinka didn't miss a beat. Hopefully both players can play to the best of their abilities at the same time in 2017.

8. Germany (7223) - Germany was once known for its depth, but that has all but disappeared. Alexander Zverev is already the German No. 1 at the age of 19. He is 14 years younger than any other German in the top 50. With Boris Becker ending his working relationship with Djokovic, it would be very interesting to see Becker in the Zverev camp in 2017.

9. Japan (6992) - Japan's youth is exciting, but it lacks depth. The efforts of Kei Nishikori are the main reason for Japan being No. 9 on this list. He is arguably the best player in the world when he is healthy. Even if he misses some big tournaments in 2017, he shouldn't have any issues staying in the top five of the rankings. Meanwhile, Yoshihito Nishioka and Taro Daniel can still improve their ranking a lot.

10. Croatia (6390) - The 2016 season was a special one for Croatia. Marin Cilic finished the year with a career-high ranking at No. 6. Ivo Karlovic didn't let age stop him. At 37 years old, he finished No. 20 in the world. On the other end of the spectrum, Borna Coric was the second youngest player in the top 50, finishing No. 48. This is Croatia's second top-10 finish in three years.

11. Canada (6358) - Milos Raonic had an incredible 2016 season, finishing with a career-high ranking of No. 3. Still, he only won one title all year. The Canadian is still struggling in the big moments. He reached his first grand slam final, but was never competitive in the the match. In his next chance against Murray, he squandered match points. Unfortunately, those will be the most memorable moments from his incredible 2016 campaign.

12. Australia (5856) - I thought the 2016 season would go better for Australia, but Bernard Tomic showed little improvement, Nick Kyrgios had a predictably unpredictable season, and Thanasi Kokkinakis missed the whole year with an injury.

13. Czech Republic (5695) - Jiri Vesely beat Djokovic in the biggest upset of the year, but it was a quiet year for the Czechs apart from that.

14. Russia (4860) - Karen Khachanov is the real deal. He is going to be good for a while. Roman Safiullin is healthy now too, so the future of Russian tennis is bright once again.

15. Austria (4143) - Dominic Thiem was one of the most fascinating players to watch in 2016. He played a packed schedule and racked up wins quickly. Everyone else wants to tell him how to schedule better, but I think he knows what he's doing better than anybody else, because it's working.

16. Belgium (3864)
17. Italy (3649)
18. Brazil (2549)
19. Bulgaria (2035)
20. Ukraine (2007)
21. Uruguay (1780)
22. Portugal (1705)
23. Slovenia (1444)
24. Luxembourg (1255)
25. Slovakia (1230)
26. Cyprus (1140)
27. Tunisia (814)
28. Netherlands (795)
29. Chinese Taipei (754)
30. South Africa (735)
31. Bosnia & Herzegovina (699)
32. Kazakhstan (634)
33. Colombia (632)
34. Lithuania (630)
35. Georgia (618)
36. Israel (616)
37. Moldova (614)
38. Dominican Republic (586)
39. Korea (571)
40. Uzbekistan (492)
41. Romania (457)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

How will the 2016 ATP season be remembered?

Every tennis season on the ATP World Tour is parked by unique characteristics. It could rivalries, matches, scandals or many other things. The 2016 season was marked by an accomplishment, but it may be a few years until fans, experts and commentators recognize this accomplishment as the defining moment of this season.

Right now, many people would say Andy Murray’s ascent to No. 1 in the world is defining accomplishment of this calendar year. It just seems right that all four members of the Big Four have reached the top of the tennis rankings. It’s fitting. It’s also the most recent big tennis story in our minds.

I think that with time, though, the perspective will change and the accomplishment that defines 2016 will be Novak Djokovic’s completion of the non-calendar Grand Slam, joining Don Budge and Rod Laver as the only players to win the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open consecutively.
Djokovic’s win in the final over the eventual year-end No. 1 completed what was without doubt the most dominant 12-most stretch of tennis in the history of the sport, because unlike Laver and Budge, Djokovic won the slam on three different surfaces. On top of that, he completed the slam at the only major he had never previously won.

Add to that what Djokovic had done outside the majors. He won five of the last nine ATP Masters Series 1000 events and reached the final at three others and he was in possession of the Year-End Finals trophy. In total, Djokovic had racked up a record 16,950 ranking points, which was more than the No. 2 and No. 3 players combined.

Certainly, Murray’s climb to No. 1 and the incredible return of Juan Martin del Potro will also be clear memories from the 2016 season. The defining moment, however, continues to be when Djokovic drew a heart on the Parisian clay and laughed in it while Gustavo Kuerten cheered with a smile from the stands. That was the moment that summarized the most dominant 12-month stretch of tennis that the sport had ever seen.

This was a moment that could have been and should have been one that transcended sports. It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally in sports, there is a moment so big that everyone stops to watch whether you are a fan of that sport or not.

These kinds of moments don’t happen often, but I can think of a few in my lifetime. It happened when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased Babe Ruth’s home runs record. It happened when Tiger Woods won the 2008 US Open. It happened with Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It also happened at Super Bowl XLII when the Patriots tried to complete the perfect season.

Though to a smaller degree, there have been a couple of those moments in tennis when the sport transcended the entire sports world. Though some tennis fans may want to forget it, the Isner-Mahut match at Wimbledon did grab the attention of even non-tennis fans. Another was last year when Serena Williams went for the calendar year Grand Slam after having already won her second Serena Slam at Wimbledon. Murray becoming the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 2013 was another big one.

So why wasn’t Djokovic’s inspirational moment in Paris one that transcended tennis and showcased the sport to millions of people who wouldn’t otherwise tune into a tennis match? Some of it does have to do with Djokovic being overshadowed by Williams’ own non-calendar slam just 11 months before. Another reason was that to some degree, a Djokovic victory was expected and some people had become bored with Djokovic always dominating.

However, the main reason this moment didn’t get the recognition it deserved was because of lazy journalism. Rather than write about the history that was on the line for Djokovic, they decided to recycle old story lines, because that was easier to do.

Each of the previous three years, Djokovic arrived in Paris in search of the Roland Garros trophy. Three years in a row, he failed to win that trophy. Throughout 2014 and 2015, journalists basically renamed Roland Garros as “the elusive major” or “the one that eludes Djokovic.”

It was the same story line they had used with Andre Agassi and Roger Federer in previous years, so a copy-and-paste was enough to make a good story in 2014 and 2015. However, 2016 was different and should have been treated differently, but the sport’s most prominent writers stuck to old story lines, while the pursuit of the non-calendar Grand Slam was just an afterthought.

New York Times’ Christopher Clarey buried this paragraph more than halfway into a long preview for the 2016 Roland Garros final: Djokovic is not only trying to join the elite club of seven men who whave won all four Grand Slam singles titles. He is also trying to complete a so-called Djoker Slam by winning his fourth major in a row.

Compare that to how the New York Times previewed Roger Federer’s pursuit of the non-calendar Grand Slam in 2007, placing this paragraph prominently near the front of the match preview: This time, yet again, Federer has a chance to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once.

There are a few differences here beyond just where the paragraphed is placed in the article. First, there is no mention of Federer going for a Career Grand Slam followed by a mention of the non-calendar Grand Slam as if it were a secondary accomplishment. Second, the 2007 article gives the historical context for the achievement that Federer was one win away from,  pointing out that nobody had done it since Rod Laver.

And the New York Times wasn’t alone. All of the top-tier tennis journalists in the United States fell into this trap. Compare the way Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim covered the two events in the deck of his articles.

2007: Second-ranked Rafael Nadal defended his French Open title by continuing his domination of No. 1 Roger Federer and spoiling his rival’s Grand Slam bid

Notice: no distinction here between calendar and non-calendar, simply ‘Grand Slam.’

2016 before the match: The 11-time Grand Slam champion opens up about his love for the one major that has eluded him

2016 after the match: This was his 13th title on clay but Sunday’s win was obviously the biggest one and now we can discuss Djokovic without having to make mention of the French Open title that’s eluded him.

To begin with, nobody was making Wertheim use the word ‘eluded’ or ‘elusive’ repeatedly or any of his mentions to tennis demons and tennis karma surrounding Djokovic in Paris. Also, there is not even a mention of the non-calendar Grand Slam or anything slightly resembling an acknowledgement of the ultimate accomplishment in the sport.

Every journalist learns the inverted pyramid in their first year of studying journalism. What the inverted pyramid means is that journalists put what they consider to be the most important and attention-worthy information at the top of their story and less important information at the bottom. Nearly every single article about Djokovic’s triumph in Paris mentions “Djokovic completed the career Grand Slam” before saying “Djokovic has won four consecutive majors.”

But which one is more impressive? Djokovic is only one of three players to hold all four major titles at the same time, while eight different players have completed the Career Grand Slam. The obvious answer is that the Grand Slam, whether won in a calendar year or any other 12-month period is more impressive than winning all four majors at any point over the course of a career.

If tennis journalists had done their job correctly and included some mention of four in a row, the Djoker Slam (or whatever you want to call it) in the lead, then this piece of history wouldn’t have been so massively overlooked. No wonder television producers didn’t make any features on sports shows about Djokovic’s pursuit of history, when they had to dig through more than half of a New York Times article to even find out that history was on the line.

Wertheim and Clarey are easy to point to, because they are the two most note-worthy journalists in tennis in the United States, but they aren’t the only ones. In a big way, tennis journalists missed a massive opportunity to help the sport reach the general sports fan. That is, of course, the main way that we get our sport to grow outside of its niche.

We don’t know when the next opportunity will come where tennis has the chance to transcend the entire sports world, but when it does come, I’m going to be watching to see which journalists are covering the events correctly.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Tennis Stocks 2016

Tennis Stocks 2015
Tennis Stocks 2014

This is the third edition of tennis stocks. One of the series that I do ranks the best countries in tennis based on singles ranking points earned by players from each country ranked inside the top 140. Each country is ranked by the sum of ATP singles ranking points earned by each by each of those players. Then what I do once a year is project five years into the future. If I could buy stocks on each tennis country, would I buy hold or sell on them for the next five years. This is the third year that I'm doing this, so pretty soon we will get to see if I made the right decisions a couple years ago.

I'm going to go through each country represented in the top 140 of the ATP singles rankings in order of their rankings as countries according to my formula. I'll start with the best country and make my way down. This will be a good way to know five years from now whether a country has improved or not.

1. Spain - SELL - I have sold on Spain the last two years and it's an easy choice to do it again this year. Up to now, Spain's fall has been slower than expected. They have remained No. 1 in the world with the only change being how much they lead by. France is very close and could take the No. 1 ranking away from Spain by the end of the year. It could all come down to one match between Monfils and Nadal in the O2 Arena. This post is about predicting five years from now, though, and Spain isn't getting any younger. Of the 13 Spaniards in the top 140, eight of them are in their 30's and only one players in the top 200 is under 25 years old. Nicola Kuhn and Juame Munar are the only Spanish juniors with much promise, but neither of them will come close to replacing the depth of talent that Spain has had over the last eight years.

2. Serbia - SELL - I bought on Serbia two years ago, but not last year. There is plenty of talent on its way from Serbia, but replacing Djokovic is a big task. The last group of talented teenagers has produced few results so far. Miomir Kecmanovic is the next Serbian hope, but he won't realize all of his talent in five years. Right now Serbia is held at the No. 2 spot almost entirely by one player. In five years, Djokovic won't be nearly as dominant, but he will be joined by a much larger group of players to support him: Dusan Lajovic, Filip Krajinovic, Nikola Milojevic, Laslo Djere, Miki Jankovic, Pedja Krstin, and Miomir Kecmanovic. Still, to remain in the top 2, a country has to have a lot more depth than that or one player that is dominant.

3. France - SELL - France isn't nearly as old as Spain, but for the third year in a row, I'm selling on France. The recent rise of Lucas Pouille and Quinten Halys has given hope to France, but seven players in the top 70 players are over 30. France will always be one of the best tennis countries, but it won't be quite this good in five years.

4. United States - BUY - I bought on the United States the last two years and they moved up in the rankings both times, so I'll buy again. John Isner, Rajeev Ram, and Sam Querrey are the only Americans that may not be as good in five years. Otherwise, the Americans will be very strong. Between Taylor Fritz, Jared Donaldson, Frances Tiafoe, Ernesto Escobedo, Reilly Opelka, Deiton Baughman, Michael Mmoh, Tommy Paul, Ulises Blanch, Stefan Kozlov, and Noah Rubin, someone is going to have to break through if not a handful of them. The future of American tennis has become very bright in the last couple of years and the talent is already being realized.

5. Great Briatin - SELL - I bought on Great Britain when they were No. 16, which was an easy decision. However, buying when they are already No. 5 would be foolish. There isn't much room to improve at this point for Great Britain, which is a tribute to what Andy Murray has done in the last 12 months. Five years from now, Great Britain might still be in the top 10, but certainly not the top 5.

6. Switzerland - SELL - There is nowhere to go but down for Switzerland. Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka won't be the same in five years and there is nobody to replace them. This one is the easiest one on the list.

7. Argentina - Hold - The future isn't great for Argentina, but staying inside the top 10 is certainly feasible. Under 24 years old, there isn't much talent in Argentina right now. Santiago Rodriguez Fa Taverno has shown some promise, but he will likely never compete for big titles. However, the talent that has put Argentina at No. 7 on this list is young enough that staying at No. 7 won't be too hard. In fact, if not for injuries, Argentina would likely be higher on this list. Federico Delbonis, Guido Pella, Diego Schwartzman, and Juan Martin Del Potro will still be around in five years and maybe Pedro Cachin can get into the top 100 one day. Argentina will dip in the rankings eventually, but it will be more than five years from now.

8. Japan - Hold - I bought on Japan when they were No. 12 and sold when they were No. 7. Yoshihito Nishioka, Taro Daniel, Akira Santillan and Kei Nishikori will be the face of Japanese tennis in five years. Beyond that, it is hard to predict much about Japan. Nishikori is one of the best players in the game already, so there isn't a lot of room to improve for him, but when Djokovic and Murray get out of the way, he could become the world No. 1. If we guessed who the world No. 1 would be in five years, Nishikori would have to get some serious consideration.

9. Canada - BUY - This one is easy. Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil will still be around in five years and they will be joined by Felix Auger Aliassame, Dennis Shapovalov, Alejandro Tabilo and Benjamin Sigouin. And there are many others who could potentially reach the top 100 in five years. From top to bottom, Canada can only get better. They will very likely be in the top three in five years.

10. Germany - BUY - Germany was a sell at No. 6 two years ago, but I bought last year when they were No. 13. Now the future of Alexander Zverev looks even brighter. He is already the German No. 1 at only 19 years old. He doesn't have much of a supporting cast, so I'm betting on just one player, but that's how good he is. Rudolf Molleker was listed in my Top 20 Under 20, but he is still only 15, so five years from now he will still be very young.

11. Croatia - HOLD
12. Czech Republic - SELL
13. Australia - BUY
14. Russia - BUY
15. Austria - BUY
16. Italy - HOLD
17. Belgium - BUY
18. Slovakia - SELL
19. Brazil - HOLD
20. Ukraine - SELL
21. Portugal - HOLD
22. Uruguay - SELL
23. Bulgaria - BUY
24. Netherlands - BUY
25. Cyprus - SELL
26. Luxembourg - SELL
27. South Africa - SELL
28. Tunisia - SELL
29. Chinese Taipei - SELL
30. Israel - SELL
31. Bosnia & Herzegovina - BUY
32. Dominican Republic - SELL
33. Lithuania - BUY
34. Kazakhstan - HOLD
35. Moldova - SELL
36. Georgia - BUY
37. Latvia - SELL
38. Uzbekistan - BUY
39. Colombia - BUY
40. Korea - BUY

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A response to Matt Zemek's take on media coverage of Novak Djokovic

I want to start off by saying that I am not writing a response because I disagree with Matt Zemek's article. On the contrary, I found it to be a wonderfully written article. I recommend that everyone reads it: 2016 At The Majors, ATP Edition: Media Coverage of Novak Djokovic

I've also have written on this topic and have tweeted frequently about it, so I was grateful to see someone else use their platform to bring attention to this topic. The reason I am writing this response, however, is Matt's assertion that a Calendar Grand Slam is a greater achievement than a non-calendar Grand Slam.

Matt isn't alone in this view. In fact, he is part of the majority. I have always argued that the difference is completely arbitrary. Four in a row is four in a row regardless of order is what I have been saying since before Djokovic won Roland Garros.

Matt certainly isn't the first to disagree with me on that point, and I've long considered addressing what I have always considered to be a misconception. However, Matt threw a wrinkle into this. His reasoning is far more complete than fans who think calendars matter. I hope I accurately represent his views here.

For Matt, not only is a non-calendar slam not as impressive as a calendar slam, but there is a hierarchy even among the different kinds of non-calendar slams. If the order includes winning Roland Garros and Wimbledon, it is greater than winning Wimbledon first and saving Roland Garros for last. Similarly, winning Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in order is more impressive than winning the US Open first and coming back for the other three afterwards.

The reason is that less time separates the majors. If someone wins Wimbledon first, they don't have more than a full month between each major en route to four in a row. The assumption being that more time between majors makes winning them consecutively easier. It's a widely accepted idea, but nobody has ever put it to the test mathematically. I want to do that in just a bit.

There are four different ways to win four in a row. You can win four in a row starting at the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, or the US Open. I have argued that it doesn't matter, many have said starting at the Australian Open is best and the rest are secondary because they are non-calendar, and Matt says that all four are unique. So who is right?

As I write this sentence, I don't yet have the answer to that question. Before I even begin researching, I want to tell you how I am going to determine who is right. That way everyone knows my methodology is objective. This way everyone knows that I didn't research first and then cherry pick what supports my arguement.

My methodology

Every run of four consecutive majors is comprised of three doubles and two triples. A double is winning two slams in a row and a triple is winning three in a row. If a player wins a Calendar Slam, they completed the AO-RG double, RG-W double, and W-USO double, but they did not achieve the AO-USO double. When Djokovic won four in a row, he won the W-USO double, USO-AO double, and AO-RG double. For triples, Djokovic won the W-USO-AO triple and the USO-AO-RG triple, but not the AO-RG-W triple or the RG-W-USO triple.

My plan is to rank the doubles from most difficult to least difficult and then do the same for the triples. Using that ranking, I will determine in which order it is hardest to win four in a row.

I am going to look at three stats from all men's tennis majors since 1988. I pick 1988 because that was when the Australian Open switched to hard courts and by then had already been scheduled for January. Data from before 1988 really isn't relevant in determining how difficult it is to win consecutive majors today.

These are the three stats
1. Number of times the double or triple has been achieved
2. Number of times a player has reached the final of all the majors in the double or triple
3. How well the winner fared at the following major (for triples I will look at the results only if the player won the previous two majors)
*Data does not include any of Djokovic's four most recent majors

AO-RG: This double was won twice (hadn't been done since 1992). Australian Open winners went on to go 119-18 with three withdrawals at Roland Garros. Finalists at the Australian Open reached the final at Roland Garros 11 times.
RG-W: This double was won three times (three consecutive years, 2008-10). Roland Garros winners went on to go 76-20 with five withdrawals at Wimbledon. Finalists at Roland Garros reached the Wimbledon final 13 times.
W-USO: This double was won nine times. Wimbledon winners went on to go 129-18 with one withdrawal at the US Open. Finalists at Wimbledon reached the finals at the US Open 17 times.
USO-AO: This double was won seven times. US Open winners went 119-18 with three withdrawals at the Australian Open. Finalists at the US Open reached the final at the Australian Open 23 times.

AO-RG-W: This triple has been done 0 times since Rod Laver did it in 1969. The two players that won the first two legs combined to go 6-2 at Wimbledon. Players who reached the final of the first two legs reached the Wimbledon final 6 times.
RG-W-USO: This triple has been completed 1 time (Nadal 2010). The three players who won the first two legs combined to go 18-2 at the US Open. Players who reached the final of the first two legs reached the US Open final 7 times.
W-USO-AO: This triple has been completed 4 times.  The nine players who completed the first two legs of this triple combined to go 48-5 at the Australian Open. Players who reached the final of the first two legs reached the AO final times.
USO-AO-RG: This triple has been completed 0 times since Don Budge did it in 1938. The seven players that completed the first two parts combined to go 29-7 at Roland Garros. Players that reached the final of the first two legs reached the Roland Garros final 7 times.

Ranking the Difficulty
Doubles (hardest to easiest)
1. Australian Open-Roland Garros
2. Roland Garros-Wimbledon
3. US Open-Australian Open
4. Wimbledon-US Open

Triples (hardest to easiest)
1. Australian Open-Roland Garros-Wimbledon
2. US Open-Australian Open-Roland Garros
3. Roland Garrros-Wimbledon-US Open
4. Wimbledon-US Open-Australian Open

This is certainly up for debate. The top two spots on both lists are virtual ties. It just depends on what stat you think is the better indicator. One interesting note is that nobody who has won Roland Garros has lost at Wimbledon in the semifinals. A lot failed to reach the semifinals, but of the seven that reached the semifinals, they went 7-0 in the semifinals and 3-4 in the final.

It seems that winning Roland Garros does take a massive physical toll on the body, but if the player that won Roland Garros can survive the first few rounds at Wimbledon, they have a great chance to bring home the trophy.

Meanwhile, maintaining a high level of play from the Australian Open to Roland Garros appears to be one of the biggest tests in tennis. There are five Masters Series 1000's between the two majors, so the confidence of having won the Australian Open doesn't naturally flow over to the next major. That kind of confidence has to be maintained over a number of brutal tests. At Roland Garros, 17 of 28 Australian Open winners reached the second week, but failed to win the trophy. Of the remaining 11, two withdrew, seven lost in the first week, and only two won the trophy and both of those were over two decades ago within four years of each other.

Ranking of the four ways to win the Grand Slam (hardest to easiest)
1. Starting from the US Open
2. Starting from the Australian Open (Calendar Slam)
3. Starting at Wimbledon
4. Starting at Roland Garros

Starting from the US Open includes the three hardest doubles and the two hardest triples, so that is by far the hardest way to win a grand slam. Starting from Roland Garros includes the three easiest doubles and the two easiest triples, so that is clearly the easiest.

The two that are left are the Calendar Slam and the Nole Slam. The Nole Slam doesn't include the second hardest double or the hardest and third hardest triples. The Calendar Slam doesn't include the third hardest double or the second and fourth hardest triples. Therefore Calendar Slam is slightly harder than the Nole Slam.

My Thoughts

There definitely does seem to be a hierarchy as Matt claimed. However, less time between majors certainly is not the determining factor in which is hardest. Each of the four ways to complete the Grand Slam present unique challenges. None of the four is like another.

Also, elevating the Calendar Slam above the non-calendar slam is certainly an arbitrary difference as the data shows here. There is nothing more impressive about doing it before the calendar changes. The way Djokovic completed the Grand Slam was the third hardest way to do it, so that destroys the excuse that media used when they said only the Calendar Slam matters.

Final Thought

I want to echo Matt's main point, because at the end of the day, I agree with him. Tennis journalists missed a massive opportunity to help this sport reach the generic sports fans, who don't typically follow tennis. Instead of focusing on Djokovic's pursuit of history, they trotted out the old narratives of "the elusive Roland Garros trophy." They copied and pasted stories from the year before instead of realizing a new kind of history was about to be made.

One interesting thing came out of my research that even I, as a massive Djokovic fan, didn't know. Djokovic was the first player since Don Budge in 1938 to win the US Open, the Australian Open and Wimbledon in order. Why didn't I know that? Why didn't I care? Because Djokovic had won four in a row. I wasn't going to be excited about three in a certain order when four in a row just happened. The achievement of those three in a row, was secondary, so it got completely buried that even I didn't know.

That is how the media should have treated the Career Slam. Djokovic had just won all four in a 12-month span. How could any journalist think it is even noteworthy that he had won all four at some point or another in his career? That achievement would be overwhelmingly obvious given the fact that he had done it in a 12-month span. Ultimately, the media dropped the ball on this one and tennis as a sport (not just Djokovic fans) missed an opportunity.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What is Sportsmanship?

Following a US Open tournament, where ESPN became the self-appointed sportsmanship police, there has been a lot of discussion about what is gamesmanship and what is sportsmanship. Unfortunately, opinions have been heavily influenced by ESPN and viral videos online.

Earlier this year, a Facebook friend who doesn't even know the rules of tennis shared a video to my feed of Jack Sock, supposedly showing good sportsmanship. The video, full of captions explaining what was happening to viewers who don't understand tennis, showed Sock tell Lleyton Hewitt to challenge a shot. Hewitt, looking surprised, decided to follow Sock's advice and as a result won the point. Seems like good sportsmanship, right?

What that video didn't say is that it was an exhibition match at the Hopman Cup, where players genuinely care very little whether or not they win. The reward for Sock's actions was the adoration of a pro-Hewitt Australian crowd, and it came at the cost of one point in an exhibition match.

While I was thinking through what I wanted to say in this article, I came across this tweet, which only strengthened my opinion:
The reason there is a misconception about sportsmanship today is that concession has earned a morally elevated status compared to competition. The reason we love sports, however, is that there is competition. That is what sports are - competition. So, while honesty is admirable, conceding any edge in sports is nothing like sportsmanship.

Many wanted Novak Djokovic to wait until after Stan Wawrinka served to take his medical timeout even though Djokovic would have had no chance in that game. In other words, they wanted Djokovic to concede instead of compete. Djokovic decided to compete. In the final of the last major of the year, Djokovic chose to compete. Make no mistake about it, that is the only crime of which he is guilty.

Now, there is also the issue of the so-called "unwritten rules." Most people don't seem to know what the term implies. They (mainly just Jon Wertheim) think that unwritten rules are rules of sportsmanship that everyone must follow.

On the contrary, unwritten rules is a term that comes from baseball, which refers to a special set of agreements to do something that would be illegal if spoken out loud. That's the reason they are "unwritten." For example, when your teammate gets hit by a fastball, you as a pitcher have the responsibility to now go hit someone on the opposing team with a fastball. Unwritten rules are not a moral standard that we should appeal to, but a form of revenge that is a necessary evil at best.

One of the best examples of sportsmanship in tennis is Rafael Nadal. Though it is one of the worst memories for me as a tennis fan, when Nadal pointed at the net in the 2013 Roland Garros semifinal, he was showing good sportsmanship. He knew the point was rightfully his. Instead of conceding the point, which he really did not deserve to win, he was going to make sure that the umpire made the right call. He was going to fight for that point and concede nothing. Is it not Nadal's fighting competitive attitude that he is loved for? That is what sportsmanship is.

Of course, breaking the rules for a competitive advantage is not good sportsmanship either. Athletes that use performance enhancing drugs show the worst kind of bad sportsmanship. Same with juniors who intentionally make bad calls. However, let's not confuse that with players lying about touching the net or a double bounce. If you can fool an umpire on a judgement call, that's a competitive advantage and it shouldn't be conceded. It's like a pitcher doing a balk-pick. If you can get away with it, great. But if you get caught, don't even try to argue it.

Yes, arguing when you know you are wrong is bad sportsmanship - especially when you threaten to shove a ball down a lines person's throat for calling a foot-fault.

Overall, ultimate sportsmanship is shown by fighting tooth and nail for every advantage within the rule book to win your competition regardless of the sport. That kind of competitiveness is what every fan wants to see when they watch sports. Why was Hewitt so surprised by what Sock did? Because Hewitt is one of the most competitive tennis players in the world, and he would never do what Sock did.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A note to #NoleFam

Today I had a question on twitter for NoleFam: Given how high expectations were after 2015, are you happy with Djokovic's 2016 or a little disappointed?

I realize the question is a little premature, since we still have three elite events left this year. The tweet had 36 responses and many people had to use abbreviations to fit their answer in 140 characters. I'm not even going to try to fit my answer in 140 characters.

The answers ranged from "happy" to "can't complain" to "worried about injuries" to "disappointment" and for others a recognition of how spoiled we are to even consider that this season was somehow a disappointment.

It's true, we are spoiled. However, given the bar that Djokovic has set for himself and how high our expectations were for him this year, is this a disappointment. Considering that I'm answering this question right after a loss, it's easier to say yes. If I answered this question after Roland Garros, I would have said nothing else matters.

To answer the question though, I have to go back to what I expected in December 2015 for this season. Unfortunately, I didn't write it down anywhere, so it is hard to remember exactly what I expected. However, there was a "wish list" that I had in my head, so let's look at how Djokovic did relative to that list.

I put these in order of how badly I wanted them:

Win Roland Garros: A big yes to this one! There was so much pain built up from all the near misses the previous five years that finally winning Roland Garros let all that pain go away and it turned into sheer joy, because Djokovic also won the Grand Slam (all four majors in a row), which is the greatest accomplishment in tennis and it hadn't been done since 1969.

Reach the quarterfinals at every major: Didn't do it at Wimbledon. When Djokovic lost to Wawrinka in the Australian Open quarterfinals, that loss was especially tough to accept for me. Not because I wanted Djokovic to win the title so badly, but because it ended Djokovic's long streak of semifinals reached. Once that streak was over, I started to care a lot about his quarterfinal streak. I wanted Djokovic to break Federer's record of 36 consecutive quarterfinals reached, which many considered to be impossible to break. He was very close, but a bad day against Querrey ended it all. It shows how impressive Federer's streak was. That loss to Querrey was tougher than any other this year.

Remain No. 1 all year:  TBD. This has been my goal for Djokovic every year. He finally did it last year, so now I want to see how long he can keep this streak alive. It looks pretty likely that he will hold on until the end of the season, but Murray still is a threat, especially if Djokovic is injured.

Win Cincinnati: Not this year. To me, Cincinnati is almost as important as a major at this point. It's the only Masters Series 1000 event that he hasn't won. I'm of the opinion that having titles at more events is more impressive than lots of titles at the same event. So if you had won each major once, that is more impressive than winning the same major four times. The good news is that Djokovic can win this one next year. Having won all nine Masters Series events will likely be Djokovic's toughest record to break once his career is over... if he does it. That's why it's so important to me.

Win Gold: This one was a no. The Olympics has never mattered to me much. The Olympics is a swimming and gymnastics event. It's not a tennis event. Winning gold is worth zero ranking points, so it really doesn't matter. Still, it's better to have gold than to not have it, and this was Djokovic's last opportunity to win it.

Have a positive winning record against Federer and Nadal: Yes to this one. To have a winning record against two of the greatest players of all time is a massive achievement. When Djokovic retires, this will be one of the key points in his GOAT resume. Djokovic is younger than Federer and Nadal and lost to both of them a lot early in his careers. However, he turned the tables on them so drastically that he overcame huge deficits in the head to head records. This is a real testament to the degree of dominance Djokovic has had since 2011.

At this point, Djokovic already has two of those and will likely complete three of the six things on my wishlist. So is does that make me happy or am I disappointed?

A lot of people said when Djokovic lost to Querrey that it was okay because he had won Roland Garros. Then Djokovic lost to Del Potro, but that was okay, because he had won Roland Garros. Then Djokovic pulled out of Cincinnati, but that was okay for the same reason. Then the loss to Wawrinka happened, and I felt that all the joy of having won Roland Garros had been erased by all these losses.

However, as I look back on it, nothing can take away from the joy of the day Djokovic won Roland Garros, but that doesn't mean that the losses to Querrey, Del Potro and Wawrinka aren't disappointing. They are separate events that produce separate emotions that don't simply cancel out.

There is one other factor, and many people hit on this in their answers. Djokovic started the year great, but has since dropped off a tad in his degree of dominance. Now he has the toe issue, which could hamper him for the rest of the season. The first half of the year was amazing, but the second half of the year was relatively disappointing for Djokovic.

I personally would rather start weak and finish strong. Because Djokovic started strong but finished weak, he has a lot of points to defend in the next eight months with not as many points in the bank, meaning the No. 1 ranking is at risk.

Also, this doesn't exactly inspire hope that Djokovic will dominate in 2017. Djokovic has finished the last few years very strong, so I have gone into the off season very optimistic. Unless something crazy happens in the next two months, I won't be nearly as optimistic this off season.

Conclusion: I'm both disappointed and happy. I realize this is a total cop out, but if you told me this is what was going to happen nine months ago, that's what I would have felt. It's like being kissed by your crush while sitting on a cactus. It's both beautiful and wonderful, while at the same time being painful. That's the best way I can describe how I feel about 2016. I also fully recognized that I have been totally spoiled by Djokovic, but I truly hope that he can one day be considered the GOAT. He's not there yet, but he is getting closer with every win.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Is Andy Murray the Real No. 1?

World No. 2 Andy Murray has had an excellent summer winning Wimbledon, the Rio Olympics, and finishing runner-up at Cincinnati. Meanwhile, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic has had a far less impressive summer aside from a title in Canada, bringing up a meaningless and factless debate about who is the "de facto No. 1."

Charlie Eccleshare said it this way, "The Scot is the reigning Wimbledon, Olympics and Davis Cup champion, and if he wins the US Open he would surely be the de facto world No 1."

*I'm tempted to spend this whole post crushing that argument with head-to-head record stats and non-ITF results, but I'll resist for now.

Eccleshare coined this phrase "de facto No. 1," but what does it mean? In the way Eccleshare uses it, the term simply means that Murray is the British No. 1.

However, Eccleshare's fact-free claim that Murray is unofficial No. 1, regardless of what the computer rankings say, is actually a common mistake. Other people call it the unofficial Player of the Year. Whatever you call it, it's a mistake that is a result of misunderstanding rankings.

Computer rankings are the ultimate authority on who is better, period.

Tennis is a sport, and in sports you do not get to move the goal. The goal is set in place and everyone shoots for that goal. The goal is the same size and height for every player.

In tennis, rankings are the goal. Every single tennis player is competing for a higher ranking. Rankings don't measure success in the sport. Rankings are success in the sport.

The same way a goal in soccer gets you a point, a win in a tennis match is worth points. The player or team with the most points is the winner. The objective of tennis on the ATP World Tour is to get points. Therefore, the player with more ranking points is always the better player.

Claiming that a player with less points is currently better than a player with more points is equally outrageous as saying that the team that lost was the better team that day. Impossible! They did not complete the objective. Sports are driven by objectives, and the player or team that completes the objective is the winner.

Style counts for nothing in sports (which is why cheerleading, ice skating, diving and gymnastics cannot be sports despite being extremely athletic competitions). The losing soccer team could be far better at passing and controlling possession of the ball, but if they put the ball into the goal less times than their opponents, they are not better than their opponents.

In tennis, winning Wimbledon and winning the Australian Open are equal achievements both worth 2000 points. Winning Wimbledon is not worth extra style points.

Therefore computer rankings are absolutely perfect and authoritative, because rankings are the goal. And in tennis, like in any other sport, the goal cannot be moved, widened, lowered or ignored, regardless of how much the British press tries.